Markham’s Caelyn Sunga-Batac is one of just eight athletes from across Canada selected to compete at the International Federation of Muay Thai Associations (IFMA) 2022 Youth World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this August.
The event is an annual competition where countries from around the world compete in Muay Thai (Thai kick-boxing). Its history goes back as far as 1993 — and 2005 for the youth championship.
Born and raised in Markham, Caelyn is a Grade 9 student at St. Brother André Catholic High School.
“As you can imagine, the cost to send Caelyn on this trip is quite high, so we are trying to share her story to garner support via a GoFundMe at Knees2Malaysia.ca,” says Rowena Sunga, Caelyn’s mother.
The ultimate hope is that Caelyn’s hard work will serve as inspiration to other young people, Sunga said, especially young women and girls, to discover their passion and pursue it to their fullest potential.
Seven years ago, Caelyn stepped into her first Muay Thai class. She spent the first few years just going through the motions and learning the basics. When she was nine, she had her first opportunity to compete at nationals.
“There were no other kids at my gym looking to compete and so I trained with adults in the evenings, staying up way past my bedtime,” she said, describing the experience as lonely and the hardest training she had ever done.
Caelyn won a silver medal after losing to her first opponent at the time. She cried because she felt like she let her coach down. But looking back at it now, Caelyn says she’s glad she accepted the challenge and had the courage to see it through.
“In most of my life, people would describe me as shy, shy and a bit of a wallflower. Today, Muay Thai has made me feel confident, powerful and capable of anything I put my mind to.”
Years later, after walking into her first lesson, countless late-night classes, bloody noses, injuries and bruises, Caelyn has worked hard enough to be given the opportunity to represent Canada at the 2022 IFMA Youth World Championships.
“In Canada, the Muay Thai community is small. Even smaller are the number of female athletes and women of color,” said Caelyn. “We are fighting to bring home the World Youth Championship medals in our weight divisions and demonstrate the strength, courage and heart of Canadian female youth athletes.”
Although Caelyn is up for the challenge, the biggest obstacle is getting the funds for her and her coach to get there and invest in more training. With help from the community, Caelyn and her team hope to set a path for many more young people to discover, fall in love with and practice Muay Thai.